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Feature Article: Sea of Change

A Glimpse into the Environmental, Economic and Social Successes of Tun Mustapha Park 

By Marine Programme, WWF-Malaysia

27 February 2024, Kudat: 

Nestled in the heart of the Coral Triangle, Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) in Sabah, Malaysia, stands as a testament to the collaborative efforts of local communities and environmental organisations striving to preserve marine wonders. 

Close your eyes and imagine the kaleidoscopic palette of coral reefs, the gentle sway of seagrass beds, and the whispers of the South China Sea. Spanning nearly 900,000 hectares across 50 islands in the northern tip of Sabah, this marine protected area not only safeguards diverse ecosystems but also serves as a model for sustainable practices, illustrating the profound impact of community-driven conservation initiatives - it is a living testament to the harmonious symphony between nature and the communities that call its shores home.

Balambangan Island, Tun Mustapha Park. Photo © Eric Madeja / WWF-Malaysia

The coral reefs in TMP are a canvas where the diligent brushstrokes of over 100 people from government agencies, community-based organisations, non-government organisations, and tourism operators have crafted a masterpiece. After coral restoration initiatives, the once-fading Live Coral Cover now pulses with life, a testament to the synergy of enforcement and community camaraderie. Approximately 2,152 square metres of degraded reef area were revitalised with  1,600 units of coral frames, restoring 22,000 coral fragments from over 30 species. 

Building the web using Reef Stars at Maliangin Kecil Island. Photo © Addin Mazni / WWF-Malaysia

In the moonlit nights of Tigabu, marine turtles reclaim their nesting grounds. Kekal Asli Tigabu, a band of local community members, has orchestrated a 50% reduction in turtle nests poaching. They also monitor and manage a marine turtle hatchery to increase the survival rate of hatchlings. As a result of their consistent efforts, the shores now bear witness to the delicate dance of marine turtle hatchlings – a resurgence of life sparked by unwavering commitment.

A marine turtle hatchling heading towards the sea. Photo © Mazidi Abd Ghani / WWF-Malaysia

In the bustling markets, LA'NU's soap-making venture has transformed into a beacon of sustainability. Their income, once a ripple, now swells to almost RM3000, contributing 10% to community conservation. LA'NU's story transcends economics. It's about women weaving threads of empowerment, contributing not only to family tables but also to conservation initiatives. The impact of their endeavours resonates beyond monetary value – it's a celebration of resilience and unity.

Members of LA’NU with their cooking oil-based soap products. Photo © Zaharen Awang / WWF-Malaysia

In the labyrinth of marine conservation, community members become custodians of the sea, evolving into citizen scientists. The once distant realm of patrol boats and data sheets now bridges the gap between tradition and conservation, as fishers turn stewards of their ancestral waters.

Meet Mohd Yusof, a guardian patrolling the azure expanse. In his eyes, there's a sparkle of pride, a connection to the land and sea that transcends duty. The TMP management plan isn't just bureaucracy; it's a shared narrative for safeguarding, an ode to the community's commitment etched in every ripple.


Mohd Yusof in action. Photos © Addin Mazni / WWF-Malaysia

“There's a sense of satisfaction in doing this. It helps the authorities. We act as their eyes and ears because we care about our area.” - Mohd Yusof

As the story unfolds, TMP now sets its sights on the global stage, via a pursuit of recognition through the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Green List. Currently in the “Candidacy Phase," the park is on a mission to showcase itself as a beacon of collaborative, effective management, and equitable governance - an inspiring model for protected areas worldwide. Through this journey, TMP is set to deliver more impactful conservation outcomes, raising the bar by aligning with a credible global sustainable standard.

A seal of approval from this prestigious recognition will demonstrate Sabah's commitment to conserving nature and its dedication to safeguarding the future of its people. TMP’s journey towards IUCN Green List is a tale of aspirations reaching beyond horizons, seeking acknowledgment not only for the park but for every hand that has shaped its destiny. 

Tun Mustapha Park isn't just a marine protected area, it's a living saga of triumphs and transformations. As waves whisper tales of resilience, it beckons us to listen closely. For in the hands of those who call its shores home, the future of our oceans finds its guardian angels.



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